Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The best summer movie ever

By Gene Seymour
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
The Beatles arrived in the United States 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/the-sixties'>Check out coverage of "The Sixties: The British Invasion,"</a> a look at how the Fab Four's influence persists. Click through the gallery for more images of the Beatles' first American tour. The Beatles arrived in the United States 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. Check out coverage of "The Sixties: The British Invasion," a look at how the Fab Four's influence persists. Click through the gallery for more images of the Beatles' first American tour.
HIDE CAPTION
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gene Seymour: Best summer movie? "Hard Day's Night," 50 years ago this weekend
  • It was exhilarating for teens to see anarchy, smarts, daring of Beatles on big screen, he says
  • Film shows in 50 cities this weekend. He first saw it at 11, it sent him over the moon, he says
  • Seymour: His own son reacted same way. You won't find better movie out there this summer

Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN) -- The best summer movie ever made premiered 50 years ago this weekend. It had no sharks, robots, zombies, superheroes or alien invaders. Nobody met somebody else in cute "rom-com" fashion and no one traveled in time. Though explosive in its way, there were no explosions; indeed, no special effects of any kind. There wasn't even much of a story; at least not the kind with a beginning, middle or end.

So what was it about? Not much, really. Just four guys in suits running, jumping, meandering and goofing around all day from one crowded area to another in search of breathing room, all filmed in stunning black and white.

Gene Seymour
Gene Seymour

"A Hard Day's Night," the 1964 musical comedy that brought the Beatles -- and the global phenomenon they detonated -- to the big screen, marks its half-century with a new DVD-Blu-Ray package from the Criterion Collection, whose digitally restored version (from the original negative) is being theatrically released in more than 50 U.S. cities this weekend.

10 places to relive Beatlemania

Even with all the brighter, bolder, fresher-looking Hollywood product out there over this holiday, I don't think it's a stretch to say that none of them will be a better experience than "A Hard Day's Night," especially if you've never seen it before. But it holds true even if you've already seen it once, twice or too many times to count.

In the end, that's what a great summer movie is supposed to do: Make you want to go back on the ride again to experience the same thrills and, maybe, find something new to like about it. Not too many movies do that anymore.

I don't just mean there are fewer movies -- such as "Hard Day's Night" -- shot in black and white, or ones that dare to tell stories in the same off-the-cuff narrative line. But you're less likely to find one now that takes chances with its material, veers into storytelling anarchy and Just Lets Go.

Opinion: Why The Beatles couldn't happen in today's digital age

"Hard Day's Night" not only knew how to Let Go, it made its audiences do it, too. In his liner notes to the new Criterion disc, critic-historian Howard Hampton uses the expression "euphoric blur" to characterize the movie and the way it was made.

Director Richard Lester, whose experience up till that point included TV sketch comedies for such antic British comics as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, applied such a loose, intimate and baggy texture to this mythical day-in-the-life-of-the-Beatles that those who first beheld it believed it to be almost a documentary.

The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists.
Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others. The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists. Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others.
Beatles myths and misconceptions
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
Beatles myths and misconceptions Beatles myths and misconceptions

It wasn't, except for some of the answers John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr deliver in the press-conference set piece. By the time the movie was filmed in the spring of 1964, they'd answered those kinds of questions hundreds of times on two continents. (INTERVIEWER: "How did you find America?" JOHN: "Turned left at Greenland.")

Summer rewind: Looking back at 1964

That was the other liberating, intoxicating aspect of "Hard Day's Night" -- its attitude. It refused to take anything, not even its subjects' galvanic success, seriously. When rock-and-rollers such as Elvis Presley did movies, they seemed so awkwardly sincere that you wondered if they'd misplaced the energy that made them famous in the first place.

Under Lester's "guidance," the Beatles showed the same brash insouciance in on-screen that they displayed in performance. (John snorting through an empty Coke bottle, Ringo deadpanning under a hair dryer while reading a magazine as the manager, Norman Rossington fumes, "What are you up to?" Says Ringo: "Page five.")

John Lennon sketches going to auction
The Beatles: The club that started it all

All this sent me to the moon and back when I was 11, and I was allowed to see "Hard Day's Night" during its opening weekend in America. This would have been early August, a month after the movie's July 6 London premiere.

It was a Saturday evening, and my parents, along with others, black and white alike, in the Hartford housing project where I grew up, actually agreed to drive a bunch of their kids to a downtown movie house, to see, unaccompanied, what the shouting was about.

How Ed Sullivan met The Beatles

At that point, I wasn't as committed to the Beatles as my sister and her friends were even before the movie started. But after it was over, all of us were so wired by what we'd seen that we wanted to run, goof and joke around all night long, even after two cars scooped us up to take us home. It was as if the movie -- and the Beatles themselves -- had given me permission to be as wise, foolish, daring, smart and alert to the world as I wanted to be. And I couldn't wait to see it again just to make sure I hadn't imagined it.

Watch 'The Sixties'

Screaming fans, funny accents, and amazing music: nothing would be the same after the Beatles and other British musicians came on the U.S. scene in the 1960s. Go inside "The British Invasion" on this week's episode of "The Sixties," Thursday night at 9 p.m. on CNN.

It would be years before I had that chance. When I did, I felt just as empowered and exhilarated by that movie in my 20s as I did on that long-ago twilight. When my own son saw it for the first time, at age 6, he was just as hyped as I'd been.

The gift that "Hard Day's Night" keeps giving is the right of all who see it to say to themselves, "Take the world as it comes and when you break from its moorings, don't be afraid to be as silly or as soulful as you're able. And whatever you do, make sure you bring other people along."

Maybe I'm still dreaming all this. But I'm awake enough to know one thing: No new movie that came out this year can make so many audiences feel as buoyant or as alive as this movie did -- and does. It's possible that both "A Hard Day's Night" and, for that matter, the Beatles themselves were miracles that could never be duplicated. But can't the movies at least try to imagine that such things are possible?

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT